Calling the People of the Book to Embrace the Faith
In the previous ayah, there was a description of the Jewish stance against Islam which ranged from flat denial to labored falsification, something born out of the desire to misrepresent, alter and ridicule. The present ayah addresses them directly and commands them to believe in the final revelation and demonstrate their confirmation. Should they continue ignoring the warning and remain hostile, they should really be concerned about the consequence of their ill choice.
“…before We efface the faces and turn them on their backs…”
According to ibn Abbas ‘effacing’ used in the sentence refers to blindness.
“….. and turn them on their backs…”
According to Qatadah and Atiyah al-Awfi this means “We put their faces on their backs and make them walk backwards”, since their eyes will be in their backs.
In tafseer al-Mazhari we find two probabilities in this act of turning. It could either be that the features of the face are eliminated and the whole face is turned around towards the back; or, it may be that the face is flattened like the nape of the neck, devoid of all features, ‘effaced’.
This makes the punishment even more severe, and it is a parable that Allah set for ignoring the truth, preferring the wrong way and turning away from the plain path for the paths of misguidance. Therefore, such people walk backwards.
Note: When will this be is a question posed and answered by commentators in great details. Discussing this deconfiguration (tams)and transmutation (maskh) some of them have said that this punishment will come upon the Jews before the Day of Resurrection, while others have said that this punishment did not come to pass because some of the Jews had entered the fold of Faith.
Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanavi has said, “In my opinion, that question simply does not arise because there is no single word in the Qur’an which would suggest the proposition: If you do not believe, the punishment of tams and maskh will definitely materialize. In fact, it suggests probability, that is, given their crime, they do deserve this punishment, and should He spare them from the punishment that would be His mercy.”
Kaab al-Ahbar Embraces Islam Upon Hearing Ayah 4:47
It was reported that Kaab al-Ahbar became Muslim when he heard ayah 47. Ibn Jareer recorded that Ess bin al-Mughirah said:
“We were with Ibraheem when we talked about the time when Kaab became Muslim. He said, ‘Kaab became Muslim during the reign of Umar for he passed by Madina intending to visit Bait-ul-Madqus and Umar said to him, ‘Embrace Islam O Kaab.’ Kaab said, ‘Do you not read in your Book: The example of those who were entrusted with the Torah and then did not take it on is like that of a donkey who carries volumes [of books]. Wretched is the example of the people who deny the signs of Allah. And Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people [62:5]?’ Umar left him alone and Kaab went on to Homs (Syria) and heard one of its inhabitants recite this ayah while feeling sad,
يَـأَيُّهَآ الَّذِينَ أُوتُواْ الْكِتَـبَ ءَامِنُواْ بِمَا نَزَّلْنَا مُصَدِّقاً لِّمَا مَعَكُمْ مِّن قَبْلِ أَن نَّطْمِسَ وُجُوهاً فَنَرُدَّهَا عَلَى أَدْبَـرِهَآ
“O you who have been given the Book, believe in what We have revealed confirming what is with you, before We efface the faces and turn them on their backs…”
Kaab said, “I believe, O Lord! I embraced Islam, O Lord!” for he feared that he might be struck by this threat. He then went back to his family in Yemen and returned with them all as Muslims.”
“….or curse them as We cursed the Sabbath-breakers….”
refers to those who breached the sanctity of the Sabbath, using deceit, for the purpose of earning more. Allah changed these people into apes and swine [refer Surah al-Araf].
Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala then ends this ayah, by saying,
“…. And the command of Allah is (always) executed.”
meaning, when He commands something, then no one can dispute or resist His command.